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Cannabis Temporarily Relieves PTSD Symptoms, Says Surveyed Group

Jun 10, 2020

Cannabis Temporarily Relieves PTSD Symptoms, Says Surveyed Group

Leo Bear-McGuinness
Science Writer & Editor
@LeoMcBear

While many researchers still debate whether cannabis can treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), one group of people living with the condition have come to a much firmer conclusion in an observational study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

Just under 400 people involved in the research say cannabis reduced the severity of their immediate PTSD symptoms by more than half.

But as the study relied on the participants’ own testimonies, its authors recognize that its conclusions are limited.


What does the research say?

To get their findings, the researchers trawled through the data of over 400 people who used a cannabis-related app.

The app, Strainprint, which was not developed by the researchers, allowed users to track changes in their PTSD symptoms before and after cannabis use. Users preparing to self-medicate for anxiety, for example, would answer the question “How bad is your anxiety?” by rating the severity of their symptoms on a 0-to-10 scale.

The studied group collectively used the app 11,797 times over a 31month period.

The researchers found that the vast majority of participants noted a decline in intrusive thoughts (98 percent), flashbacks (92 percent), irritability (97 percent), and anxiety (93 percent) after inhaling cannabis.

As for how effective the treatment was, on average, these app users reported a 62 percent reduction in the severity of intrusive thoughts, a 51 percent reduction in flashbacks, a 67 percent fall in irritability, and a 57 percent decline in the severity of anxiety.

“The study suggests that cannabis does reduce symptoms of PTSD acutely, but it might not have longer term beneficial effects on the underlying condition,” Carrie Cuttler, an assistant professor of psychology at Washington State University and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

“Working with this model, it seems that cannabis will temporarily mask symptoms, acting as a bit of a band aid, but once the period of intoxication wears off, the symptoms can return.”

But, as Cuttler and her colleagues note, their study has many caveats. For one, the app users self-identified as having PTSD and it was not possible to verify these diagnoses. It’s also likely that some of the reported effects were driven by the participants’ expectations about marijuana’s therapeutic potential. But as the study had no placebo control group, the researchers were unable to account for this.

For these reasons and more, Cuttler and her colleagues have made a call for more thorough, experimental studies to be carried out, so cannabis’ suitability as a PTSD treatment can finally be settled.

“Future research should examine specific cannabinoid preparations as monotherapy, as well as adjunct to conventional behavioral and pharmacological interventions, within well-powered placebo-controlled trials,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion.


What do other studies say?

Medical cannabis is already an approved medication for PTSD in several US states. Certain cannabis companies even offer complimentary membership to US military veterans struggling with the condition.

But many mental health researchers are sceptical of the drug’s usefulness in treating the disorder.

Last year, a research team from University College London reviewed ten studies that had involved participants with PTSD using cannabinoids to reduce their symptoms. Although the team observed some positive effects for certain PTSD symptoms, such as insomnia and nightmares, they were unable to fully endorse clinical use without further studies.

“Current prescribing of cannabinoids for PTSD is not backed up by high quality evidence, but the findings certainly highlight the need for more research, particularly long-term clinical trials,” said the study’s senior author, Michael Bloomfield, in a statement at the time.

Several experimental studies have found that nabilone (a synthetic variant of THC) can help reduce the nightmares, flashbacks, and insomnia PTSD can provoke. But for the many medical cannabis patients who opt for flower-based products over such synthetic options, the studies’ conclusions may have less relevance. 

“We need more studies that look at whole plant cannabis because this is what people are using much more than the synthetic cannabinoids,” Cuttler added. “It is difficult to do good placebo-controlled trials with whole plant cannabis, but they’re still really needed.”


This article was amended on June 15 to include the name of the app used in the study, Strainprint. 

 

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